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California Social Host Law: Potential Liability When Hosting Events

Variety of beers grouped together with word "Host Responsibly" written in the middle

The holidays are around the corner. For many, that may mean excessive amounts of food, family, friends, and, yes, alcohol. With this in mind, now might be a good time to discuss potential liability when hosting an event.

We previously discussed party hosts and underage drinking, but one of the more critical aspects of the California Social Host Law is that a host who knowingly serves alcoholic beverages to a minor can be held liable, and face serious consequences.

California Civil Code §1714(d) states:

(1) Nothing in subdivision (c) shall preclude a claim against a parent, guardian, or another adult who knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at his or her residence to a person whom he or she knows, or should have known, to be under 21 years of age, in which case, notwithstanding subdivision (b), the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death.

(2) A claim under this subdivision may be brought by, or on behalf of, the person under 21 years of age or by a person who was harmed by the person under 21 years of age.

For example, if an underaged individual is intoxicated and causes a serious car accident, that could mean additional liability for the adult who served alcohol to the minor.

According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 21.4 percent of underage youths in California reported they drank alcohol, and 33.3 percent obtained the alcohol they drank from a third party. Over 17 percent reported using marijuana that year – another controlled substance requiring recreational purchasers to be over 21 years old.

Add to those numbers the fact that over 45 percent of underage Californians reported feeling “sad or hopeless” every day for two or more weeks. This dangerous mix of emotion and underage drinking can lead to very risky behaviors..

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), underage drinkers are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder, become heavy drinkers, or be involved in alcohol-related motor vehicle and other serious accidents.

By abiding by the California Social Host Law, family and friends over 21 can minimize the risk of legal liability when hosting holiday and other events. It’s not just a legal responsibility, but also a social and ethical responsibility.

California takes underage drinking and providing or selling alcoholic beverages seriously.  Serving a minor, or serving “habitual or common drunkards,” and violating Business and Professions Code §25602, may lead to serious consequences.

It’s up to everyone to celebrate with family and friends safely and responsibly while ensuring the underaged can remain safe.

Andrew L. Shapiro is an experienced personal injury attorney.

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